Friday, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the German National Football Team scored an early goal and took the wind out of the sails of a French team that had previously seemed to be sailing right through opponents.
The 1-0 score line was strangely sufficient, from very early on, as the French had no offensive ideas and were unbelievably content passing the ball between defenders and midfielders, or booming it down the field to well covered strikers, rather than trying to construct any cohesive attacks. In fact, the French seemed more at ease defending all game long than they did continuing to be the team that had scored ten goals in its previous four games. Why that changed approach, and why it was continued once they fell behind, must await some future French explanation.
The expected game’s rhythm and tenor appeared to be set in the first ten minutes when Germany pressed up high, moved its defensive line up, and had the majority of possession, but France had the two more dangerous plays on counters. Then came an innocuous free kick, at the 11:59 mark, from about 30 yards out and on the far left side. Toni Kroos took a simple in-swinger that Mats Hummels, running toward goal from right to left to meet the ball, got a solid head on. He flicked the ball back, toward his right, over his shoulder and marker. The orb hit the underside of the crossbar, beating the late dive of French captain and goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris, for the score.
From that moment on the French seemed disorganized, ineffective, unimaginative, and defeated. Gone was the assertive play of the first ten minutes. They had some chances throughout the game, but the Real Madrid Karim Benzema we all know managed to miss or mess up every single chance his team created, save the one he created for himself and actually got on goal, at the 93:48 mark of stoppage time.
The game became so easily foretold that German coach, Joachim Low, felt comfortable enough to make his three changes over the last twenty minutes of the game, and none were strategic or needed. Meanwhile, Didier Deschamps, the French coach, made his in what almost seemed a response to Low’s (save the one due to an injury to Mamadou Sakho). Unfortunately, there seemed little logic in the other replacements which saw Deschamps decide that with a need for creative attacking ideas taking out his one creative playmaker, Mathieu Valbuena, for the only other offensive option the team had, Olivier Giroud, at the 84th minute, was the card to play.
Many games this cup have been decided on a single play (brilliant act or tragic miscue) amidst the frenetic efforts of teams playing at their best, or on a single play pulled off by a special player creating a timely magic moment. This game was decided when an entire team, from management to substitutes, seemed to cave into a pressure only they felt was insurmountable from about the 15th minute mark on in.
France’s number of missed passes, bad decisions at important junctures on both sides of the pitch, missed shots, balls put into the air when a simple short pass sufficed, poor and untimely substitutions, and overall poor play, could not have come at a worse time for them. This was the match they needed to play at a higher gear. Maybe they didn’t own one.
For the vast majority of the game, the Germans were so efficient, so consistent, so accurate, so dependably aware of time, space, and opportunities, that for most of the second half the 1-0 score line was always closer to increasing. The French seemed devoid of any intensity and played with such a lack of urgency that no one could have envisioned a tying score was likely to materialize. The Germans were the fair winners of this match, but it was rarely a contest the last 78:01 minutes.